On November 20th, 2018 I went to see Anthony R. Green’s performance Today’s Music Through Activism in the Emery Performance Center at the University of Maine, Farmington. It was a solo performance, with various music, sounds, media, and even audience voices involved. I didn’t know anything about Green before the performance started besides one clip we watched in class of him, that confused me more than anything else. But Today’s Music Through Activism was on a whole new level.
The entire production had a focus on bringing the experience of being black in America to light. Recent events, like police brutality and unlawful shooting of black people were included, as well as the history of the black experience, shown through “WE CANNOT BE AFRAID/KINDNESS RECITATION” a performance on a lynching. Music, and by extension, sound and performance, has always been an expression of identity and experiences. Not all of Green’s identity or experiences were shared by the audience in rural Maine college with a 60% female attendance, but that’s why it’s important that we did watch and participate.
This reminded me of a section in Josh Kun’s Audiotopia on Whitman’s I Hear America Singing. Whitman’s experiences of supposedly listening to all of America singing neglected to hear the voices of anyone that wasn’t a straight, white, upper class, and predominantly male person. This was obviously a case of selective hearing on Whitman’s behalf, because it wasn’t as if black people were invented after he made all his money. To contrast this, Green’s performance was all about being black: being black in America, showing black creativity, being a black performer, a black singer, and a black person. This was his way of expressing his identity and imagination through sound. He sung, stomped, talked, played piano, choked, hummed, and screamed through the set. Each sound was purposeful and chosen as a way to express his message.
I would say that Green’s creativity is something that I would have previously considered “unique” or “a little weird”, but the message and his efforts really hit home for me when we were invited to sing along with him in “Rest in Pow’r: a Song for Survival Echo Round”. It was then that Green sung the three lines over and over, then played the melody, and had us sing along with him. I think it really brought us in a new place and experience on being black in America, by literally having us in the form of our voices part of the performance. We can be part of the problems, or the solutions, but in that moment, we were singing with him, and echoing what he was singing: for those dead by violence against black people, may they rest in power.
Hailey Wellington is a senior at UMF, with a major in Secondary Education-English. This post was originally written for the UMF Literary Theory 2018 blog, which is used by students in ENG 455 Literary Theory to write about course reading material and sometimes to apply the ideas from course readings to events on campus. The Anthony Green performance was scheduled as part of the events organized by the New Commons Project at UMF.